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Public Education Starts Down Statewide Voucher Path

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Monday, 09 September 2013
in Wisconsin

back-to-schoolSenator Kathleen Vinehout writes about a community forum she attended on the future of our public schools. Participating with her was State Senator Dale Schultz, Julie Underwood, Dean of the UW Madison School of Education, and Jeff Pertl of the Department of Public Instruction.  The discussion focused on the challenges facing public education including the loss of state aid, substantial increases in poverty, and statewide expansion of the voucher program.

MADISON - Public education started down the statewide voucher path with the start of the school year across Wisconsin. While things might not look different on the outside, big changes are happening in the state’s public education system.

One of the biggest changes is the expenditure this state budget makes in taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools. At the same time, over half of public schools will see no increase in state aid. Many of our rural schools will see the maximum cut – a bit above 15%. But private school parents around the state are looking forward to two infusions of public money into private schools.

For the first time in state history, private schools statewide are eligible for public dollars through vouchers. The program starts small: 500 students statewide in the first year and 1,000 students in the second year. But people on both sides of this debate predict the cap will be temporary. In addition, private school tuition will be a tax deduction for parents, costing Wisconsin taxpayers an estimated $30 million over the state’s two year budget.

I recently spoke at a community forum aimed at stimulating conversation about the future of public schools. Participants learned Wisconsin’s public schools are doing a good job in the face of many challenges.  Nearly 9 out of 10 public schools meet or exceed state expectations while only 4% are failing. But statewide, student poverty has substantially increased.

I shared with participants the story of my school district of Alma. Twelve years ago less than 2 out of 10 students were poor (as defined by eligibility for free and reduced lunch). Last year 4 out of 10 students’ families fell into this category. The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram reported 42% of Eau Claire district students are from economically disadvantaged homes – a 10% increase in five years.

Often, teachers use their own money to supply children with healthy snacks, school supplies, and warm clothing. A school social worker confided that 15 of her Middle School students are from homeless families who have exhausted all options for shelter.

The effects of poverty undermine children’s ability to learn. It takes more resources, financial and staff, to help economically-disadvantaged students keep pace with their peers.

Yet such aid to assist schools has steadily declined.

Jeff Pertl of the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) explained to forum attendees how poverty impacts student performance. High poverty schools are often low performing schools. Students simply do not have resources to learn. Minority students are more likely to attend a poor performing school. This exacerbates the state’s achievement gap.

To address this issue, 20 years ago the state embarked on an experiment with voucher schools in Milwaukee. Questions still swirl around the success of this experiment.

While Milwaukee’s voucher program gave students more educational options, DPI data on 2011-12 Wisconsin Student Assessment Scores show Milwaukee voucher students are less proficient in both reading and mathematics than students in Milwaukee public schools.

The forum audience wanted to know the cost to public schools of the expansion of the private school vouchers.

Mr. Pertl explained on average the state funds 61% of the cost for public school students and 100% of the cost of statewide voucher and independent charter students. Although the voucher system was touted as a way to help poor students in failing public schools, two-thirds of the students who signed up for the statewide voucher program were already in private schools.

UW Madison School of Education Dean Julie Underwood added key facts to our discussion. The most profound statement came from my colleague Senator Dale Schultz whose comment should give us all pause:

“Look, I voted for charter schools at different times and choice schools. And why did I do it? Because I want our kids to have the best and I know that sometimes you gotta look outside the box for a new solution and it’s worth trying.”

“But I don’t quite understand – when the facts are in, when we know that our public schools are doing a superior job – we put the money in the other pot.”

“To me it looks like the largest middle class entitlement ever and how’s that conservative?”


(A tape recording of the forum is available on Wisconsin Eye at the link below: )

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Who is Mary Burke?

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 03 September 2013
in Our View

mary-burkeA few months ago Burke wasn't on the radar screen of possible Democratic candidates for governor in 2014, and now she seems to be the hand picked candidate pushed by the party establishment. But having family money and running with the country club set have not been known to buy you love in traditional Democratic circles.

GREEN BAY - According to her friends in Madison, Mary Burke is so not a politician.

At least, that is the assessment of the former Commerce secretary and Trek Bicycle executive by a former colleague in Madison. But does it explain why a few months ago Burke wasn't on the radar screen of possible Democratic candidates for governor in 2014, and now she seems to be the hand picked candidate pushed by the party establishment.

One obvious advantage is that she could bring a boat load of her own money to the campaign. Should Burke decide to run, she has a fund raising edge over other Democrats because she is a multimillionaire. According to recent articles in the Madison newspapers, Burke paid on average $103,000 in state taxes alone each of the past five years. She could, at least partially, self-finance her campaign.

According to the same reports, Burke has said she is considering entering the race but hasn't yet formed a campaign. She spent the past couple of months meeting with key Democrats and business leaders around the state to assess a possible run.

But Burke's only experience in elected office has been as a Madison School Board member since 2012. She has held several leadership roles during her career, mostly in the private and nonprofit sectors, that party insiders hope could provide insight into what kind of governor she might be.

At Trek, the Waterloo-based company founded by her father in 1976, Burke oversaw the opening of offices in seven European countries and later developed its forecasting and strategic planning department. She also tutored poor minority children at the fledgling Boys & Girls Club of Dane County, which led to her joining the organization's board. In 2002, she became board president. She left Trek in 2004 to commit to raising $6.25 million for the club's Allied Drive expansion.

Her business and philanthropic work caught the attention of then Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, who in January 2005 appointed her Commerce secretary, a position she held for two-and-a-half years. She has also held other leadership roles on local boards, most notably in 2003 becoming the first female president of Maple Bluff Country Club, where she honed a single-digit golf handicap.

But having family money and running with the country club set have not been known to buy you love in traditional Democratic circles. Should she run for governor, Burke would be vying to become the first woman to hold the state's highest office, and the first female gubernatorial nominee for a major party ticket in Wisconsin. Another woman, State Senator Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, is also considering a run and more closely fits the traditional Democratic profile.

In addition, Statewide candidates typically come with more political experience than Burke. However, the recent election to the U.S. Senate of businessman Ron Johnson shows that doesn't have to be the end of the story, said Charles Franklin, a Marquette University Law School public policy professor. But Johnson is a Republican, and most Democrats have been quick to point out that business experience does not easily convert to the public sector.

Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, one of several Democrats who met with Burke to discuss her candidacy, said her success in different sectors make her an appealing candidate. He said many politicians, including himself, are waiting until Burke announces her plans before considering a possible run.

"What makes her exciting as a non-politician is she seems interested in the job and serving the state", Mason said. But is that enough for most Democrats to get over her patrician background, regardless of how much money she can bring to the election?

Republicans as usual, are preparing to paint Burke as an out-of-touch Madison liberal representing the policies of the Doyle administration.

As someone who has blatantly supported the failed policies of the past and whose candidacy was completely formed behind closed doors, it's clear that Mary Burke would have a hard time connecting with Main Street, Wisconsin, state Republican Party executive director Joe Fadness said when contacted by the Madison press.

Personal History

Burke was born in Madison in 1959, but grew up in Wauwatosa and Hartland near Milwaukee. She was the second oldest of five, and has three sisters and a brother, John, who now runs Trek.

She majored in finance at Georgetown University and received her MBA from Harvard Business School in 1985. Just before graduation, she asked her father for a job at Intrepid, his Brookfield-based holding company, but there wasn't an opening, so he turned her down.

Six months later, after working as a consultant in New York, she was hired at Intrepid as vice president of finance. But she soon missed the big city and returned to start Manhattan Intelligence, a service for consumers about businesses. It struggled to raise enough capital, and by 1990, she sold her stake and took a job leading Trek's European operations.

In one year, Burke opened offices in four countries, which meant setting up legal entities, hiring staff, leasing office space and establishing office protocol, said John Burke, who was her boss.

Steve Lindenau, who ran Trek's German operations at the time, said when he learned the company founder's daughter would be his boss, he wondered if it was a case of nepotism. It wasn't long before he considered Burke one of the smartest people he knew.

Lindenau was used to making decisions from the gut based on his experience growing up around bike shops. Burke insisted on a different approach based on analyzing data and assembling all available information.

The business changed (to) being less of an emotional way of making decisions and more of a pragmatic approach, said Lindenau, who now runs two bicycle companies in California. It was helpful for the bottom line, for sure.

Burke left Trek, and Europe, after agreeing her position was redundant and took six months off to snowboard in Argentina and Colorado - a decision Republicans have already criticized, citing polling done on that detail by Democrats.

After working at a bicycle industry trade organization, Burke returned to Trek in Wisconsin in 1995 to work on global sales forecasts. John Burke said his sister came in and tore the process apart using data analysis to reduce inventory levels and increase profits. It went from one of the worst things we did as a company to one of the best, he said. Mary has always been somebody who takes a look at things and thinks it can be done better.

Boys & Girls Club

Burke applied her business acumen as president of the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County, but it led to friction with the club's executive director, Juan Jose Lopez.

Burke started as a tutor in 1998, but it wasn't long before the club's founding president, Peter Brey, and founding director, the Rev. David Smith, took her to a University of Wisconsin basketball game to talk up joining the board.

Burke flexed her executive skills on the board - reviewing financial statements on weekends, generating fundraising ideas and laying the groundwork for transforming the South Side neighborhood club into a citywide organization. In 2002, she was unanimously elected president by fellow board members.

She was focused, she had the ability to raise money, she loved the cause and she had the Rolodex that is such a key part of getting anything done in those particular arenas, Brey said.

Lopez came on as executive director around the same time, and a conflict emerged between them as Burke micromanaged the day-to-day operations of the club, Smith said.

Mary wasn't going to be pushed around by anybody, including her executive director, Smith said. She broke a few eggs, but she made a wonderful omelet, and the community is still eating that omelet.

Brey said Burke and Lopez had different views on how to move the organization forward, and Lopez wasn't executing the way Burke wanted. Lopez declined to comment.

To get to where it is now, there's never easy decisions, but no one can argue the path they took has led to one of the most successful organizations in the entire Boys & Girls Club family, Brey said, and Mary was the driving force.

When Lopez's successor, Marcia Hendrickson, also left abruptly, Burke held the position unpaid for about six months before hiring current executive director Michael Johnson in late 2009. The two agreed the director was in charge of day-to-day club operations and the board was in charge of governance.

Johnson credits Burke with putting in place the strongest financial controls he's seen at a nonprofit organization. A board officer must sign off on expenses over $1,000, and all mail must be opened by two club employees. An employee had embezzled money from the organization before Burke joined the board.

In the past decade, the organization has increased the number of children it serves from 300 to 3,000, expanded the bike ride fundraiser Burke started from $50,000 to $400,000 and grown its operating budget from $250,000 to $3.5 million.

Burke also started the AVID/TOPS student achievement partnership with the Madison School District, raised money for the Allied Drive expansion and established a $1.5 million operating endowment. She is the club's top donor.

Mary is real big on numbers, real big on data and real big on results, Johnson said. She's a no-nonsense person to make sure that the people around her feel valued, but there's a sense of direction and a sense of focus.

Commerce Department

As secretary of the state's Commerce Department, Burke managed 400 employees and a $221 million budget. Madison economic development director Aaron Olver - who was Burke's deputy secretary and later Commerce secretaryunder Doyle - said his first impression of Burke was she didn't come from the political establishment.

She introduced lean manufacturing principles in the department, seeking to reduce waste and improve efficiency. For example, after learning that each office in the department bought its own supplies, she created a central supply depot for everyone to use.

Dissatisfied with the lack of employee input in decision-making, Burke created employee labor management councils to help solve problems in the department.

Her M.O. is to get the right table of folks together to tackle a problem, Olver said.

Like other secretaries, much of Burke's time was spent negotiating economic development loans with private companies. That included a multimillion-dollar package to help reopen a struggling paper mill in Park Falls and build a biofuel refinery to make the company profitable.

Last fall, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., which replaced the Commerce Department in 2011, reported that it had lost track of $12.2 million in defaulted loans, including about $5 million from the Park Falls company.

Olver described Burke as so not a politician because she was never one to think about image or campaign donations or public opinion. At the time, she described herself as an independent but leaned more Democratic by the time she left the job, Olver said.

She did not come in thinking about the politics or optics of her decisions, Olver said. She came in focused on problem-solving and getting results.




Source: Madison Newspapers

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Budget Myths Abound in Wsconsin

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Thursday, 29 August 2013
in Wisconsin

walker_tells_bigThere are many myths concerning the 2013-15 State Budget just signed into law in June. Senator Kathleen Vinehout presents each myth and provides the facts about the budget - the state spends more; the state is left with a deficit and greater debt.

MADISON - “The State is spending less.” “This budget took a deficit and turned it into a surplus.” “Wisconsin has paid off its debt.” Which of these are true statements regarding the new state budget?

The answer is NONE of the above.

Getting information about what’s happening in Madison is one of the most common complaints of my constituents. The slow summer news cycle allowed writers and readers to begin to catch up on, for example, the plethora of policy unrelated to the budget.

Lost in most budget reviews are the basic financials – the fundamentals of the budget.

Myth number one says the state spending is less and implies the size of government is smaller.

But, according to numbers released by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, the 2013-15 budget spends $4 billion more than the previous. In fact, state spending is greater than it has ever been in Wisconsin’s history.

The new spending goes to a number of expensive new programs. Half of the $4 billion goes to health spending. But for first time in many years there are fewer people covered by state health programs. Nearly 100,000 people are expected to lose state health coverage by January. Not taking federal money for Medicaid expansion left the state budget and citizenry in worse shape.

Myth number two says this budget took a deficit and turned it into a surplus.

The opposite is true. A recent Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) report tells the story. The 2013-15 budget began with a small surplus. Tax collections are improved. Wisconsin is emerging from the recession. The state had a bit more money to spend.

But the recently passed budget spends more than it is projected to collect in revenue.

When spending is greater than revenue – a deficit exists. Lawmakers are bound by the state constitution to balance the budget.

To do this, budget writers carried money over from the last fiscal year to create a technically balanced budget. But when spending exceeds revenue the imbalance catches up with us in the next budget creating a “structural” (or built in) deficit.

A recent report from the LFB pegs this deficit at the end of the 2015-2017 budget at MINUS $545 million.

People are rightly confused about the difference between the deficit and the debt. Sometimes lawmakers use the terms interchangeably. But they are very different.

A deficit is a mismatch between spending and revenue - spending more than money coming in. Debt is borrowing and must be paid back. Spending more than money coming in can certainly lead to more borrowing. This is exactly what’s happening in Wisconsin.

The third myth says the state eliminated the debt. This is false. In fact, state debt reaches record levels in the 2013-15 budget.

Why? The budget increases borrowing by more than $2 billion. Almost half of this borrowing goes to transportation spending. In addition, debt payments not made in the last legislative session catch up to lawmakers.

When debt payments are not paid, interest adds up. In the depths of the recession, Governor Doyle delayed debt payments to gain cash and keep government going.

In the 2011-13 legislative session, Governor Walker did not pay an even larger amount of debt payments coming due. Because debt payments were not made more money goes to pay off debt in this budget than ever before.

I often hear smart budget decisions mean better times ahead. But delaying debt payments always has a cost. This budget pays that price in a greater percent of tax dollars going to pay off debt than ever before in our history. New borrowing only adds to the debt. As a result state debt reaches an all-time high of $14.7 billion - or about 101% of general tax revenue.

Another myth even state officials parrot is the only alternative to spending cuts is tax increases. This assumes everything in government is at peak efficiency. This is far from the truth.

Smarter budget decisions mean smarter spending decisions. An example is paying debt bills when they are coming due – so as not to add interest and penalties.

But to do that would not have allowed the “surplus” used to justify the modest but politically popular tax cut.

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Wisconsin Must Invest in Ending Addiction

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Thursday, 29 August 2013
in Wisconsin

drugaddict-youngThis week, we focus on the issue of Treatment Alternative Diversion or TAD. Studies show investment in TAD would save taxpayer dollars that currently go to incarceration.

ALMA - “You need to read this book,” the judge told me. “Then you need to get every other Legislator to read the book before you take another vote.”

The book was Clean written by David Sheff.

“Addiction is a preventable, treatable disease, not a moral failing. As with other illnesses, the approaches most likely to work are based on science – not faith, tradition, contrition, or wishful thinking,” writes Sheff.

David Sheff is a journalist whose son suffered from drug addiction. A decade ago he sought answers to help his son. In 2008 he wrote about his son’s addiction in A Beautiful Boy.

Clean is Mr. Sheff’s call to action to wake up, learn and act to “overcome addiction and end America’s greatest tragedy.”

Part of the tragedy is the great number of treatments that don’t work and aren’t based in science. Treatment of most illnesses has moved to evidence based practices or those treatments based in science. For the most part, the treatment of addiction has not.

Difficulties arise partly because of the nature of the disease itself. For example, denial is a symptom of the disease - making it difficult to diagnose. Relapse is part of recovery making it difficult to determine success.  Mental illness often contributes to addiction. Sheff writes at least a third of those with a psychiatric disorder abuse drugs or alcohol. Diagnosis involves accurately assessing underlying mental illness.

Some treatments do work. Effective treatments include cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing and dialectical behavioral therapy. DBT therapists assist clients in emotional regulation and distress tolerance.   Those with addictions can recognize cravings and tolerate them.

Misdiagnosing and mistreating addiction and related mental illness comes at a tremendous cost to the individual, the addict’s family and to our society.

Often those with addictions are sent to prison with court-ordered treatment for addiction and later released from prison without having received required treatment. It should be no surprise that roughly 60% of Wisconsin’s prison population is a repeat offender.

Failure to adequately diagnose and treat addiction costs all of us. For example, the recently passed state budget spends almost $100 million new dollars to renovate prisons and address the expected 2% increase in the prison population.

Over 60% of Wisconsin’s prison population is addicted to drugs including alcohol according to a 2009 audit by the Legislative Audit Bureau. The audit also found over 30% of inmates are mentally ill. Over three quarters of women in Wisconsin prisons are mentally ill.

The solution lies in correctly diagnosing and treating the addiction and preventing further crime.

Treatment Alternative Diversion (TAD) programs include drug and alcohol court, day reporting centers, mental health treatment courts and other initiatives. These programs are highly successful at reducing recidivism and treating substance abuse and mental illness.

Local courts in Western Wisconsin are among the leaders in alternative courts that work to end addiction in our communities. I recently spoke with individuals who work with those struggling with addiction. I learned how drug courts teach accountability, provide structure and save jobs, families and lives.

Yet the programs are underfunded. Few who are eligible are able to participate in the interventions.

During the budget debate I introduced an amendment to invest $75 million in TAD which would yield over $150 million in savings. Instead budget writers put a meager $1 million in new TAD spending. The Governor and Republican legislators who voted for the budget refused to recognize results that show the first million invested by the state in seven pilot programs saved almost $2 for every $1 invested.

Numbers from a 2011 study released by the Office of Justice Assistance project with a $75 million investment Wisconsin would cut annual prison admissions by nearly 40% and cut jail admissions by 21,000. Recidivism rates would fall by as much as 16% and crime rates would drop by 20%. There would also be a drop in the number of children in foster care.

Not quantified by the study are the lives and families restored. I now know what must be done, thanks to the judge who set my summer reading.

Take a look at this book. Then help me act to end addiction.

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Arcadia Faces Realities of ‘Small Government’

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 13 August 2013
in Wisconsin

arcadiaSenator Kathleen Vinehout of Alma writes about the reality facing many entities, including municipalities and counties, of small government. Deep budget cuts and shrinking resources make it difficult for state government to provide assistance to communities in need. Kathleen met with officials in Arcadia – one of those communities hit hard by flooding and by shrinking state government.

ARCADIA, WI - People were friendly but anxious. They’d come to a meeting with local leaders to learn about protecting Arcadia from flooding.

Arcadia is nestled in a beautiful valley. Water from the surrounding hills drains into the Trempealeau River that runs right through town. Next to the river is the sprawling international headquarters of Ashley Furniture.

Ashley’s spokesperson began the recent meeting by sharing jobs created and businesses supported: 4,700 jobs created in western Wisconsin. More than 670 local and regional businesses supported.

Local leaders nodded. Many in attendance owned companies that benefited from Ashley’s location.

The problem is how to pay for upgrades to dams, dikes and levees needed to protect the city from flooding when rains drained water from surrounding hills right into the center of town.

Everyone remembered summer storms of 2010 that flooded Arcadia. Company representatives made it clear if storms came again and the company had to be rebuilt it would be in another country. Not in Arcadia.

The company asked for $13 to $20 million to improve the levy along the river.

Congressman Ron Kind said pending legislation could help. The Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act - passed the Senate but was tied up in the House because Republican Congressional leaders did not want to spend the money.

An Army Corps of Engineers official explained Corps programs and limits. Times are tough. Funding cuts had eroded the Corps’ building authority.

Local officials explained they did not have the resources to pay for the project. Upstream the Mayor of Independence explained he needed help too.

Digging out Bugle Lake in Independence would hold more water running off the hills. Better yet, put in erosion structures, grass waterways, buffer strips and other conservation efforts. Keep rain on farm fields where it could do some good.

But the Governor and Legislators who voted for the state budget cut back funds for farmer conservation efforts.

Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) officials did have money and were close to an agreement for another part of the project. But WEDC officials didn’t want state efforts washed away with the next big rain.

What was unspoken in the room but on everyone’s mind: elections have consequences. Folks were running up against the new world of smaller government that many of them had promoted. The easy political talk about “cutting government” had turned into real cuts to real programs they wanted and needed.

It is a lesson we all need to take to heart. Let’s be real and specific when we talk about budgets and taxes and spending. Be careful what you ask for. You may get it.

The reality of the budget is this: 85 percent of state spending goes to six priorities upon which most of us agree -- transportation, education, health, local government, prisons and our public universities.

Programs like farmer conservation and dam, dike and levy repair make up a small part of state government. That part is getting smaller. Therefore, there is little money to slow water coming through fields into the Trempealeau River. We need money to keep water on the fields to nourish crops and out of downtown Arcadia.

I came away from the meeting realizing once again that we are a community.

Workers depend on companies for jobs. Companies depend on workers to get the job done.

Everyone depends on the infrastructure created by government, a government that together we have created.

We all have a part in making political decisions. What we decide will shape the communities in which we live, making them better or worse places to raise a family, find a job, and run a business.

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